Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Deal of the Art: What if Donald Trump were a critic of classical music on the side?

The data-breach kerfuffle on the Democratic side could help the sparks fly in tonight's obscurely scheduled televised debate, but Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders et al. still have some distance to go to equal the sizzle that's been generated thus far on the Republican side. An anxious public will have to wait till next month for the GOP hopefuls to mix it up again, but Donald Trump is sure to find ways to keep the attention focused on him until then. The flamboyance and irritation factor in his candidacy is off the charts, prompting me to wonder what it would be like for him to have also followed my core career path as a newspaper critic of classical music. This nearly defunct specialty has a history of exhibiting flamboyance and causing irritation, so in some sense it's not difficult to imagine how The Donald might handle a concert reviewing assignment.

By Donald J. Trump
Tower Music Critic

I've got Beethoven's Fifth all up here, and it's perfect.
You know whenever you put Beethoven's Fifth on a concert program everybody's gonna wanna come, right? That's a given. You have to be stupid not to know that. So it's no great credit to anyone's leadership in the symphonic world to get an audience with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. And leadership is the key thing today. I'm a leader myself, a great one, and I know what leadership is all about.

Duh-duh-duh-DAH. You know that, everybody knows that. It's popular. I love it, everybody loves it. And I know it first note to last. My memory is terrific. I realize that sounds like bragging, but it's true.

So our symphony decides they will do this tremendous work by Ludwig van Beethoven once again, and the maestro gets up there, and OK, he does a pretty good job with it. Not great, but acceptable. But, you know, we have to go way beyond acceptable in America, whether it's with immigration or dealing with ISIS or Beethoven or whatever.

So it starts off OK, and you can't blame him for trying his best. That's all anyone can do, right? And it goes over fine, right from the first duh-duh-duh-DAH. How could it miss? It's Beethoven's Fifth, for crying out loud. This fellow, I think his name is Tibor Kashmychek, takes the repeat of the exposition, which has got to be done, no matter how well we know duh-duh-duh-DAH.

But then we get into the development, and soon there's that marvelous measure with the fermatas, you know, and the solo oboe player — a nice guy, I'm told — has that little flourish and it's Adagio, for just that measure. And he's supposed to cut back the volume right away, after everyone plays the first held chord forte or fortissimo. But this oboe player doesn't diminish. There's a hairpin there, clear as day. A certain suspense is lost, and that's too bad. I'm not feeling good about that, and I don't think that kind of thing is what we need to make America great again, frankly. He plays all the notes in that measure loud, and you just try getting a feeling of mystery while being loud about it. Doesn't work. Doesn't work.

Was the maestro in control? I wondered. Here his oboe player is just blasting through this wonderful slow measure. Did Kashmychek say anything about that in rehearsal? Granted, an oboe is never really loud, but still. Where's the leadership? Many people say, Donald J. Trump likes to be loud, he's always loud. But when I negotiate a deal, I know the value of nuance, of subtlety. I don't go into a negotiation with both guns blazing — blam! blam! — even though nobody loves the Second Amendment more than I do. Nobody.

Slow movement, fine. Nothing very memorable, but fine. The third movement, I don't think the maestro understands it. We got so many people, they get up on that podium, wave a stick, and they're clueless. It's a shame, really. And the sad thing here, among many sad things, is that he can't seem to get a true pianissimo in the coda, and it's pretty obvious everyone should be going pitter-pat, in this great kind of hesitant, tense way, and we know something's about to burst forth. But the orchestra is mezzo-piano at best, I'm hearing, and that's being charitable about it. And some of my best friends are orchestra musicians. They're wonderful people. It's not their fault.

Finally, it all goes into that big finale, and it's triumphant, just as it's going to be when I lead this country. Look at the polls. It's inevitable. But this performance is another story. Sure it's triumphant, but it's false somehow. Who can believe it? Anyone can make a lot of noise about being triumphant, but how are they doing it? You got to ask yourself the hard questions, and be honest about what you come up with. You can't lie, and keep going on like that forever. Some people try to, but that's not my way. And this guy, and I don't like to use his name, but you should remember it — Kashmychek — doesn't get it from the very first measure. I'll explain what I mean. I'm smart, and I believe you're smart, too.

"Elvira Madigan"'s doomed lovers: Who needs 'em?
Some of you don't follow this, but I do. Fourth movement: The trombones enter for the very first time, and it's a wonderful effect, but those fellows have got to sound like part of the team. It's difficult with trombonists, but it can be done. Ideally, you should be aware the trombones have gotten into the game, but those guys tonight stuck out like a sore thumb, frankly. If everybody else was fortissimo, they were triple forte. It was an embarrassment. Where's the leadership?

OK, so what else did they give us at this concert? The Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, sometimes nicknamed "Elvira Madigan." It's a shame this great piece got tied to a gloomy Swedish movie about a couple of losers, mismatched lovers who get into a suicide pact. That's not what this music is about, really. It's not what Mozart — a genius with money troubles, sure — was about. There's high spirits in it, a peppy march in the first movement, but the media doesn't want you to know about that. They'd rather sympathize with losers.

And how many people remember this foreign movie that's almost 60 years old, anyway? You don't want to think about losers when you're hearing great music. And don't get me wrong, I love Sweden. The Swedes are hard-working people; they've given us many great products — meatballs, deep-tissue massage — though that's not my thing — and Ingrid Bergman, a great actress. "Casablanca," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," tremendous, inspiring movies. As for "Elvira Madigan," try to forget about it. The soloist, Claude Arpeggio, was pretty good. I wouldn't hire him, myself; he sort of dawdled over that "Andante" they used in the movie. It's not "Largo," for heaven's sake. I suppose he was nimble enough in the outer movements, but he got all soft in the middle. It's the kind of thing that brings America down.

Well, I know you're all with me. The polls tell me that, and you've been great readers. I couldn't ask for better. Before I let you go — and I don't mean "you're fired!" — I should say the concert opened with a new piece, a commissioned something or other with a foreign title. It's obvious what the symphony is doing here: Put something that's harsh and unfamiliar on a concert with two surefire box-office hits and pat yourselves on the back for championing new music. Anyone can see through that. It doesn't really mean that ugly new piece ought to be there in the first place. When I'm president, we're going to build a wall around symphony programs, and keep this new alien stuff out. And get the International Society for Contemporary Music to pay for it.

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